I was intrigued and excited to read See What I Have Done, a novel which author Sarah Schmidt spent a decade working on. Its premise sounded fascinating to me and I am a fan of historical fiction so was thrilled to have the opportunity to read it ahead of its publication in May.
‘I yelled, ‘Someone’s killed father.’ I breathed in kerosene air, licked the thickness from my teeth. The clock on the mantle ticked ticked.’
See What I Have Done is a reimagining of a notorious crime which took place in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1892. This concerned the brutal murder of Andrew and Abby Borden who were found in separate rooms of their home killed with an axe. At the time it was youngest daughter Lizzie Borden who was considered prime suspect in the murder of her father and stepmother and she was put on trial but was later acquitted. The identity of the person responsible still remains a mystery to this day and it is a case which still fascinates people more than a century later. One of those people is Sarah Schmidt who through this novel goes back in time and looks at the possibilities of who killed the Borden’s, and what could have driven the culprit to do such a thing. It is told from different points of view, alternating between the voices of Lizzie and her sister Emma, and their maid Bridget amongst others. And switching back and forth through time, we get to see the events surrounding the murders as they unfold, through the eyes of the fascinating characters, all of whom have interesting stories to tell…
‘I lift it to my face, inhaled; a tiny scream inside my nose and mouth. Someone had been dealing out punishment without me.’
From the very first page I was gripped by this story. There is an eerie, chilling feel to the book from the very start when the Borden’s grisly fates are revealed. Containing lots of historical detail from the case, Schmidt skilfully weaves together fact and fiction to recreate what life may have been like in the Borden household. And life was far from perfect for the family. Through the accounts of each character, we get to see the depth of their emotions, the dark thoughts and grievances that have built up over time. It examines the relationship between a father and his daughters, between two sisters and between these sisters and the woman who took their deceased mother’s place. There were so many layers to their stories, so many possible motives with plenty of resentment and jealousy simmering beneath the surface. I found this to be an utterly absorbing and disturbing read and this was enhanced further by Schmidt’s writing. The Borden household was well described, along with all the sights, sounds and smells that lie within it. This helped to create a chilling, claustrophobic atmosphere, with the family relationships fraying, tensions exacerbated by the stifling summer heat.
‘The house went quiet. For a moment I wondered if I was in a dream. I didn’t want to open my door, didn’t want to go downstairs, didn’t want to know what was down there.’
I had high hopes for See What I Have Done and I was not disappointed. It is an expertly written historical mystery which left me wanting to find out more about Lizzie Borden and her extraordinary family, and the terrifying crime that tore it apart.
See What I Have Done is to be published on 2nd May 2017 by Tinder Press. Many thanks to Georgina Moore and Tinder Press for providing a proof copy for review.